In an effort to help young Qataris who are struggling to lose weight, a British company has been commissioned to organize the nation’s first “fat camp,” starting next month.
MoreLife, which specializes in classes and camps to help prevent and treat obesity, has announced that it will run its first Qatar-based camp in January, as part of a five-year pilot program that is being funded by Qatar Foundation.
Researchers from Imperial College London and Qatar University will be analyzing the success of the camp after its first year, using a control group of 100 children not attending the course for comparison.
In recent years, the prevalence of obesity in Qatar has been accelerating, among both adults and children (with the country gaining the unenviable title of “the fattest country in the world” last year).
The development is particularly worrying in young Qataris, of which 40 percent have been termed obese or morbidly obese. The two-week camp put on by MoreLife will be aimed specifically at this segment, the company said.
“The number of overweight children (in Qatar) has reached epidemic proportions,” the company says in a statement on its website. “The lifestyle education programme aims to encourage healthy eating and physical activity and discourage sedentary behaviour.”
The UK’s Sunday Times reports that in total, some 2,500 of Qatar’s most overweight children will be put through the scheme during its five-year run.
The first camp will cater to 100 young Qatari nationals – 50 boys and 50 girls, ages 8 to 12 years old – who will be taught in a same-sex environment.
The children are being selected from five government-run independent schools, based on weight data collected by school nurses.
If the children fall into the overweight or obese categories, they will be invited to sessions to learn more about the MoreLife program, and enroll. Attendance is not compulsory.
The camp will be free for participating children, and is scheduled to be held during the new two-week mid-semester break for Qatar’s independent schools, which runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 6.
The end of the camp nearly coincides with another attempt Qatar is making to improve the health of its residents – National Sport Day, which in 2014 will be on Feb. 11.
Children enrolled in the program will go through a three-stage process: First, an intensive two-week camp, followed by after-school clubs for three months, and then online support during the summer months.
A typical day at its summer “fat camp” in the UK – which the website describes as a fun, educational, active summer break – includes “boxercise,” basketball, a lifestyle teaching session and orienteering, which involves navigation in unfamiliar terrain.
Stuart Costello, a British PE teacher who will be one of the Qatar camp’s instructors, told Doha News about its planned curriculum:
“There will be a physical activity part, fun games and learning skills – and a lifestyles curriculum, teaching things like what’s in your drink and food labels – and a social timetable that lets them integrate and form social bonds, and have a good time. It’s all about the experience for the children, so they’ll want to keep doing this when they leave.”
Food at the camp will not fall prey to “a fad diet,” instead consisting of a balanced three meals a day, with a healthy snack, he added.
MoreLife founder Paul Gately, a professor of Obesity and Exercise at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK, told the Sunday Times that the diets of Qatar’s children are a concern:
“We will be looking at children’s eating habits and making modifications such as smaller portions and improving the quality of food – often the food is fried. Breakfast is a key meal, and often children are missing it and grabbing something on the way to school.”
While accepting that getting more physical exercise is a challenge in Qatar, Gately said they will try to encourage more kids to walk to school to up their activity levels.
That idea, however, may be a challenge here, given the country’s lack of sidewalks and safe road crossings, among other things.